The Obsession Page 32

“Five-ten. And a half.”

“You know how to wear it.” He rose, fitted the jack and the tools back in their compartments.

“Do you want me to take the tire with me, order you another?”

“I . . . Yes, actually, that would be great. Thanks.”

“No problem. Hold on a minute.” He took the tire to his truck, got out a bucket of sand, picked up the flare. “Wanna get the other one?”

“You’re prepared.”

“Part of the job.” He doused the flares in the sand, shook his head as Naomi dug in her pockets. “You want to pay me? Give me a slice of that pizza.”

“What? Seriously?”

“That’s Rinaldo’s pizza. I’ve got a weakness.”

“You want a slice of pizza?”

“It doesn’t seem like much to ask after I risked a concussion and possible brain damage to change your tire.”

She opened the door, opened the box. “I don’t have anything to put it on.”

Xander held out a hand. “How about this?”

With a shrug, Naomi set the slice of pizza on his wide palm.

“Thanks for the assist.”

“Thanks for the pizza. You drive safe now.”

She got in, strapped in, watched him saunter away—that was what he did. Saunter. She eased out of the ditch, bumped back onto the road.

He gave his horn a friendly honk as she drove away.

He sat a moment, getting in a couple bites of pizza so he could drive one-handed. He found it, as always, delicious.

But it didn’t hold a candle to the leggy blonde with suspicious eyes.


She’d come for peace, quiet, solitude. And ended up with a houseful of people and noise. There were days when even the view didn’t balance it out.

When she asked herself why she hadn’t settled for just the basics—like reliable plumbing and a decent refrigerator—she couldn’t quite remember the answer.

The house was torn to pieces, full of dust—with the biggest Dumpster known to man sitting in her front yard. After three solid days of rain that made heading out with her camera unappealing, Naomi was ready to throw her things in the car and run.

She bought paint instead.

On the first day of rain, she cleaned and primed the master bedroom walls. On the first night of rain, she studied paint chips, created palettes and schemes with her computer. On the second day, she convinced herself it was just paint, and if she didn’t like it on the wall, she’d just paint it again.

She bought the amount of color Kevin recommended, and semigloss white for the trim—along with rollers, brushes, pans. She forgot a stepladder—next time—so again she borrowed one from the crew.

Dressed in the sweatshirt, jeans, and Yankees fielder’s cap already speckled with primer, she got to work cutting in. Since she couldn’t block out the Skilsaw buzzing, the nail guns thwacking, and the headbanger rock pounding from the first floor, she plugged in her earbuds and painted to her own playlist.

Xander drove up thinking the old house looked like it was made to loom on the bluff on rain-washed days. The day sloshed along gloomily, so the lights glinting against some of the windows added to the atmosphere. Maybe the giant Dumpster out front took some of that away, but he imagined Kevin and his crew were having a hell of a good time filling it.

He got out, hunched against the wet, strolled up to the house.

Inside the noise was amazing, but you’d have that on job sites. He smelled sawdust, coffee, wet dog—which meant Molly’d been out running around. Drop cloths and cardboard paths covered the floor.

The interior, as far as he could see, just looked sad. Dim, dingy, neglected. Maybe the high ceilings gave it some class, the natural stone fireplace some character, but he saw a lot of space to fix and fill.

He thought of the long, tall blonde with the sexy pixie hair and the don’t-make-me-kick-your-ass attitude. He couldn’t see the connection. She said city to him. Big city.

It made her and her choice of living arrangements all the more interesting.

He made his way back, following the noise. He saw stacks of lumber, tools, cords, wheels of wiring.

He wondered what people did with all these rooms. What the sexy blonde meant to do with them.

When he reached the kitchen, he had a partial answer. Here, at least, she meant to start from scratch.

They’d gutted the place, taken it right down to the studs, were now putting up new ones. A blue tarp shuddered from the windy rain over a big hole in the back wall. He knew enough about plumbing to read the rough-ins, get a sense of where things would go. Just as he could read that at one time there’d been a john in the far left corner.

“Hey, Kev, you planning on putting both kids through college on this place?”

Kevin, hunkered down with the plumber, glanced back. “It’s going to help,” he called over the noise.

He pushed up, crossed the tarped floor. “What brings you out here?”

“New tire for that FourRunner.”

“Right. I’d’ve picked it up for her, saved you a trip.”

“No problem. I wanted to see the place anyway.”

Satisfaction covering his face, Kevin looked around. “It’s coming along.”

Shoulder to shoulder, Xander looked around the same space. “To what?”

“You need vision, man. You just need vision.” He crooked a finger, stepped over to the dining area and the plywood set on sawhorses. “It’s coming to this.”

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